Thursday, December 04, 2014

More Politics (Sorry About This)

A facebook friend linked to this article for me.

I think I have differences with the author, but find a lot that is useful here, especially this:
The conception of the systemic roots of injustice--and the possibility of achieving systemic change--were replaced by a focus on subjective, individual and cultural relations as centers of struggle, including reclaiming or re-appropriating oppressive language as a tool to combat oppression. In this process, postmodernism--and the accompanying post-structural and post-Marxist--theories achieved dominance by the 1980s.
Yes, one of the things I find uncomfortable now is the emphasis on individuals and individual guilt. The system is racist, and that influences everyone in the system. It is very difficult to be non-racist in a racist system. The point is to change the system.
Calling out racism, sexism, homophobia and other reactionary attitudes is obviously a necessary part of fighting oppression in daily life--and apologies from the offending parties are surely welcome. But this is also a far cry from what is needed to end oppression.
Apologies from individuals in a racist system do not go far. Are these apologies going to create good jobs, fair policing, safe neighborhoods, an end to the war on drugs, which is a war on people of color?

(Challenging racism, sexism and homophobia within the SFF community may do some good, since it's a small community and working on individuals may result in community changes. I still dislike attacking individuals. It's a lousy way to educate and organize.)

I think the article's author has an excellent point when she says that many young or youngish activists have no knowledge of what a big movement looks like. They never experienced Civil Rights or the anti-war movement or the years when the cities burned and the US government had to send in the army (which was dicey, since there were many black soldiers, and they had been politicized by the war and Civil Rights. It was not clear that they could be used against the brothers in the burning cities.) As she says, the young activists have never seen a strike or a rank-and-file union movement. This may explain why my vision is so different from theirs. I lived through the 60s.

I see a profoundly oppressive and destructive economic and political system, which uses prejudice as a tool against ordinary people. This is obvious in some cases: the Republican Party has adopted racism, sexism and homophobia as a way to get white votes. They are pretty upfront about this. Often, the uses of racism are less obvious. The system chugs along, and people spend their time hating their neighbors, rather than the boss who pays them shitty wages and whose crappy jobs make their lives inhuman.

As the article says, it's always important to recognize and challenge oppression and prejudice. But it's also important to look at the system which is -- no kidding -- destroying the planet.

Right now large numbers of Americans know they are getting screwed, and they know the government is owned by the rich, not by them. There is an opportunity to build coalitions. Movements are emerging. Occupy. Ferguson. The organizing of fast food workers. They may disappear. Some may persist and grow.

P.S. I can imagine a younger-than-I-am aspiring activist reading this and being furious. What do I mean by the system? Behavior that causes pain needs to be confronted now! Yes, but there is more.

27 Comments:

Blogger John Till said...

It certainly reflects a lot of dynamics I have seen in both activism and human services diversity training over the last 20 years. The critique of the limitations "Unpacking the Invisible Backpack" perspective and how it has been used in activism, as well as of the corrosive influence of Laclau and Mouffe on radical thought are right on target.

The question of labor aristocracies is a bit of a separate issue though. From a world-systems perspective it is hard to argue that workers in the core have not benefited from enormous transfers of surplus value from the third world.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

As I recall, this is the argument of Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. The working classes in Europe and the US are bought off by wealth extracted from the south and east. However, their wages are now going down. We will see what happens next.

10:39 AM  
Blogger John Till said...

It's also been a core perspective of world-systems analysis, particularly for Samir Amin.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

I was actually thinking of Samir Amin as I wrote this. My next book is going to be Istvan Meszaros for Dummies, but after that I think I will go back to Amin.

8:05 PM  
Blogger John Till said...

I have a few books by Meszaros and one of the days I hope to develop t the discipline to start reading them. I say this with the new issue of Monthly Review in my lap (no Meszaros this issue, but we do have Amin and Piercy), which Har-Mar is thankfully once again carrying.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Peg said...

This article gave me an extremely useful metaphor that helped me 'unpack my knapsack' much more thoroughly. Since I've BEEN a bicycle commuter, it made a lot of sense to me--and helped me understand the concept of privilege, my own privilege more clearly.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Russell Letson said...

Still working my way through the piece, but I have to say that opening with the assertion that "whether you call [degree of gross inequality] 'privilege,' or 'benefits' or 'advantages' is not the main issue" raised at least one of my eyebrows. Terminology might not be the "main" issue in unpicking the nature and causes of any complex issue, but I'm pretty sure that choosing the most precise and historically appropriate descriptors helps a great deal. Any analysis that conflates "privilege," "benefit," and "advantage" (or sees them as only trivially different) is going to get a skeptical hearing from me. But then, I'm just an escaped Catholic and superannuated language scholar, not a social scientist, let alone a Theorist, so what do I know.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Foxessa said...

The very real obstacle to speak honestly to race and injustice, denial of civil rights and even the most basic of human rights, in the Western Hemiphere and Europe is capitalism.

Race was the engine that drove the formation and funding of the capitalist market economy that so revolutionized the lives of everyone, particularly in the 18th and 19th century. Imagine what it meant when you, a female, no longer needed to card, spin, weave and make all the clothes for yourself and everyone in your family, but instead, the 1820's, up here in New England, a pedlar come to your door, selling you inexpensive cloth! Just imagine!

None of these vast fortunes that created the industrial revolution (see why it's called a REVOLUTION!) were created without race-based slavery -- as well as the massive number associated industries in finance, banking, ship building and so on.

The means of ever increasing production, which capitalism demands, could not be met except with slavery, and slavery demanded the torture of coercion -- whips and all the rest. Not mention the associated, even more lucrative, in the U.S., domestic slave trade.

All policing in the early North American colonies was about keeping labor in place, particularly in the South. And that has never changed.

But it is not allowed to criticize capitalism as a system, that without any oversight or regulation, will go to means unthought of until the concentration camps to get what it wants -- ever more proft, and profit that never pays anything out, and which flows ONLY to a small elite.

Can't say that in America.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Hashamyim said...

Sorry, this doesn't have much to do with this post, but was wondering if there is someone specific to contact for gaining rights to publish a portion of one of your stories. I have tried contacting a few people but without much success. If you could let me know where I could send a request to bobbiejacobs@gmail.com, it would be very much appreciated.
Kind regards,
Rob Jacobs

7:28 AM  
Blogger Foxessa said...

BTW, you might wish to read this:

Alexander, Michelle. New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York, NY, USA: The New Press, 2012. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 12 December 2014. Copyright © 2012. The New Press. All rights reserved.

Love, C.

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